Poisoning Suspect Avoids Re-trial With Plea Deal

March 20, 2018 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — Poisoning suspect Helen Galli reached a last-minute plea agreement with prosecutors Monday morning, averting a highly anticipated re-trial with a no-contest plea that will result in her serving the next nine months on house arrest.

Galli, 86, of Wyoming, was accused of spiking a glass of berry-flavored Juicy Juice with antifreeze in March 2010 and passing it to Dawn Simyan, the then-girlfriend of Galli’s son. Simyan spent months recovering after growing deathly ill. Prosecutors say Galli jealously sought to hold on to her son’s love and money — a month before the poisoning, his masonry company signed a $1 million natural gas lease.

During Galli’s first trial, she was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to serve up to 12 years in prison. But she won a new trial — which had been set to begin Monday — because her trial lawyer failed to seek exclusion of a key hearsay statement implicating her in the crime.

Assistant District Attorney Tony Ross said prosecutors agreed to the no-contest plea to a single felony count of aggravated assault in part because the loss of that statement significantly weakened the case.

“It was apparent to us that that hearsay statement wasn’t going to come in,” Ross said. “So it presented us with the difficulty of trying to present the case without that chief operative fact that we had the first time.”

Simyan made the key statement during Galli’s initial trial in October 2013, testifying that her boyfriend handed her the poisoned drink and said, “My mother said, ‘Drink this, it will make you feel better.’” Galli subsequently appealed her conviction, arguing her trial attorney, Joseph Sklarosky Sr., was ineffective for failing to seek the exclusion of that testimony.

In 2016, Luzerne County Judge Fred A. Pierantoni III granted Galli a new trial, finding that Sklarosky should have sought to exclude the statement, which was “essential, foundational evidence directly implicating Helen Galli in the alleged criminal conduct.”

After serving 1,000 days in state prison, Galli was released on bail on Aug. 31, 2016, as prosecutors appealed the ruling. But last June a three-judge panel of the state Superior Court upheld the decision, describing Pierantoni’s opinion as “well-reasoned.”

Galli’s attorney, Al Flora Jr., said he had been in plea negotiations for some time because Galli was interested in resolving the case without a second trial.

“My client is 86 years of age. She spent 1,000 days in prison, and just the ordeal of having to go through another trial would have been really tough on her,” Flora said, noting that the no-contest plea carries no admission of guilt. “There’s no admission of wrongdoing, per se, and she can get on with her life.”

Ross said prosecutors were also amenable to a deal because Simyan did not want to endure a second trial as well, and was looking for a resolution to a case that has gone on for eight years.

“We’re satisfied that the case was resolved,” Ross said. “We’re hopeful that this can now bring finality and closure to the victim, and that she can put this behind her.”

Simyan addressed the court briefly prior to Galli entering her plea, saying she did support the resolution.

“I just want closure,” Simyan said.

Pierantoni said he would not have accepted the plea but for Simyan’s agreement. He abided by the terms of the plea deal, sentencing Galli to three years and three months in Intermediate Punishment Program but giving her credit for the 1,000 days she served in prison.

The balance of that time will be served on house arrest, the judge ordered. Because of a separate retail theft conviction that had a consecutive sentence, Galli will end up serving another nine months on house arrest, Flora said.

Galli was also ordered to pay $3,354 in restitution and to have no contact with Simyan.

Galli declined to comment as she left the courthouse.

The resolution Monday constitutes the second time Galli has been sentenced for trying to harm one of her children’s romantic partners.

In 1990, Galli was accused of plotting to kill another son’s wife, Ruth Ann Galli, and her parents, Matthew and Ruth Burnside.

As part of a plan to get custody of her grandchildren and collect Ruth Ann Galli’s pension, Helen Galli supplied kerosene and gasoline to her two juvenile grandchildren and made them torch the family’s Plains Twp. home after slipping crushed sleeping pills in the family’s dinner, according to prosecutors.

Everyone escaped unharmed.

In that case, Helen Galli was sentenced to four years on house arrest and 10 years of probation.

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